Hunting the Despondent Pretzel….

We decided to take a route up through the Southern and Central Highlands of Costa Rica to get from Peninsula de Osa in the extreme South-West back up to San José. Our first stop was a place called San Vito, which we had been told by some Americans on our dolphin-watching tour (and our guide book had confirmed) was a town set up by Italians in the 1950s. It didn’t look in the slightest bit Italian; it looked exactly like everywhere else in Costa Rica. Not to worry though, this was just an overnight stop on our way North. All we had to do was find our hotel, and all would be fine.

It turned out not to be that simple. Mark sent me into the police station to ask. What a waste of time that was! I started off with one clueless plod at the little reception desk, but by the end of the conversation I had five of them…. After a while, they seemed to decide among themselves that our hotel “must” be in a little place 18km South but they didn’t know where; we should drive there and ask. Hmmmmm. We double checked the accuracy of the voice of officialdom by stopping at a botanical garden en route that kindly let us use their wifi. Then when we did get close, we had to stop again and ask some ladies selling fruit at the side of the road, who gave us very good directions to the completely unmarked turning we needed. Local biddies 1, dibbles 0.

Costa Rica does stand out for its remarkable lack of road signage. We did manage to get a satnav app for £29 which is invaluable in terms of getting / keeping us on the right main roads. This may sound simple,  but it isn’t. Passing through San Vito the next day, all we (supposedly) needed to do was stay on the main road straight through town. Nope! You had to turn left down a narrow side street in the town (no signs) then turn right at a T-junction to “continue” along the main road. By this point Mark was suggesting a rousing rendition of “do you know the way to San José?” might be in order….

Everything falls to bits again in terms of navigation once you get to a town. The satnav only ever knows “town centre” but that’ll be because nowhere in Costa Rica seems to have what we would consider a “proper” address; all they do is pick what seems to them to be a local landmark then give you, with varying degrees of accuracy, distances from that. Our hotel in Liberia, for example, was something daft like “600m North and 300m West of McDonalds”. In Tamarindo the directions referenced a tower that, when asking a helpful local for directions, turned out to refer to a three-storey block of flats (“oh yes, we call that white building there the tower”). The best we can do is to try to find places we want to go on Google Maps then take a photo of the page to at least give us a vague clue when we reach the town in question…..

Having successfully left San Vito (eventually), we made out way North to San Gerardo de Dota. This is at 7000-odd feet above sea level, down a precipitous road from even greater altitudes. There’s nothing there other than a few hotels… and allegedly quite a number of Despondent Pretzels (as Mark refers to the resplendent quetzal, which is a brightly coloured trogon; see photo in last post); the male has bright metallic green feathers down its back and is a 40cm bird with 60cm long tail feathers. If that doesn’t impress the lady quetzals, nothing will…..

We did a couple of walks; on the first afternoon after we arrived we did a walk up through the hotel grounds and up again through the woods to a waterfall. We could hear quetzals but this part of the forest was very thick and we couldn’t see the birds for the trees….



The next day we did a longer walk, down the valley along the gravel road then along a path beside the river to another waterfall. We saw lots of birds, including a very busy little woodpecker with a red head (we have video…), but again no pretzel….



We were leaving San Gerardo de Dota the following morning (Wednesday), so we were up and about bright and early (6am) to maximise our chances of seeing what Mark was now referring to as the Invisible Pretzel. Finally we hit on the right strategy: get in Reggie and drive until you come across a group of parked vehicles and a crowd of people in the road. Then just look in the direction they’re pointing their spotting scopes, binoculars, and bazooka-sized camera lenses….

And so it was that we finally got to see the Despondent Pretzel, after a day and a half of looking. Yes, it was bright green and shiny. There are no pics though – it was too far away for Mark’s camera and it seemed to sense me zooming in with the video camera, disappearing just as I was about to press Record. Oh well, at least we’ve seen it…..

The coats and woolly hats in the photo of the crowd on the road stand as evidence of just how flippin’ cold it was at night at San Gerardo. As we drove up the road, Reggie reckoned it was all of six degrees outside. Brrrrrrrr. I dug my down jacket out from the darkest depths (I never expected to be wearing that in Costa Rica!) and even Mark went out in his thickest jumper plus his down bodywarmer…..

It was a relief, therefore, as we drove further North from San Gerardo and slowly lost the altitude, to see the temperature according to Reggie slowly climb back to the kind of warmth we’ve grown accustomed to. We’re now at a little place called Cariari, which is to the North West of San José. It has absolutely nothing to recommend it other than having the last hotel before a place called La Pavona (an hour’s drive from here), which is where we need to go tomorrow to park Reggie in a secure compound and catch the boat to Tortuguero.